Is it me, or have people just gotten short-tempered these days? It seems that every day there is another outrage or injustice broadcast across the social sphere. Whether a political rant, customer service complaint, or those darn kids walking across your lawn again, never has it been easier to voice displeasure with any perceived slight that has befallen us.
Social media has provided the perfect platform to embolden citizens to become warriors for justice in their own world view—many times from behind the veil of semi-anonymity. And organizations and individuals often find themselves in the crosshairs of unfavorable publicity. One foolish, or ill-timed social post or customer-service snafu can cause an avalanche of bad press and, in some cases, effectively take down an entire brand.
Organizations are in a tough spot. Short-tempered consumers coupled with ever-increasing customer demands, can put any company into a precarious position. Because after all, if you can’t meet the needs of your customer, they will quickly find someone who will—and chances are, they will let their entire social networks know about it. You can’t afford to be complacent with the customer’s experience.
The parking industry is a prime example of this “new normal.” The industry has become too competitive, and brand loyalty has become too weak to just be “good enough.” In fact, a 2016 Forrester Research study found that 72% of companies surveyed placed improving customer experience as the top priority for their business,  Can you afford to lose half of your customer-base?
As a parking professional, what are you to do?
The best way to address this is to not give your customer the chance to complain. Customer experience should be your organization’s top priority. Even above driving revenue. Yes, you heard that right. It’s all relative. If you only focus on driving to the bottom line at the expense of customer service, not only will you create a retention problem, and we all know the cost of gaining a new customer is higher than keeping a customer, but word will get out and gaining new customers will be even harder.
How can you best address customer experience in your organization?
Here are 4 key principles that can help you exceed customer expectations and will ultimately help drive better operations:
1. Over-communication is key. There’s nothing customers hate more than lack of information. Bad news is usually more acceptable than no news. Have you ever been sitting at the airport and your flight is delayed? It is interesting to watch people’s reactions when they are told that the delay will last XX number of minutes vs. being told nothing. When you know how long the delay will be, the response is usually something like a heavy sigh, a look at the clock, and a dive back into your book or mobile device. However, when no timeframe or information is provided, the reaction usually involves fidgeting, pacing around the gate, and sometimes a less than cordial interaction with gate attendants. The point here is that more communication is ALWAYS preferable. People can handle bad news if they get it early and are communicated with throughout the process. I’ve never heard a customer complain that their vendor partner spoke to them too much.
2. Technology can ease the burden. Now let’s switch that airline scenario for something that hits closer to home. How about waiting for your car to come back from the valet? What if you could simply request your car from valet via text and get updates on estimated retrieval time? Or how about real-time access via mobile app to local garage capacity and prices? Or, what if you could speed the time a customer takes to enter or exit a garage via automated identification? Sound familiar? Parking technologies like these are already making our lives easier and more efficient. The goal of parking technology essentially should be 1) allow asset owners and property managers to have one less thing to worry about, and 2) ensure guests have as little issue with parking as possible. The more technology can help both parties to not have to talk about parking, the better the experience. The key is to understand your customers’ current and evolving needs, and to implement tools to make their experiences less cumbersome. You will have a much easier time creating brand loyalty and keep them coming back.
3. Get to know your customer better. Understanding what makes them tick is critical to developing not only a vendor-customer relationship, but a long-term partnership. Now I’m not suggesting you stalk them on social media or show up to their family reunion, but you need to know what are their preferences? What keeps them up at night? How do they stay informed? What do they value? Is entry/exit speed and convenience more important than price? Is safety more important than facility appearance? Take the time to interact with your customers, whether it be in person or digitally, to find out how you can prioritize your resources and serve your customers to exceed their expectations.
4. Be Human. While most people like technology, no one likes a robot. Just look at most Sci-Fi movies. It’s usually the robot that turns out to be the bad guy. Remember HAL 9000 from “2001 a Space Odyssey”? And don’t forget the “Terminator.” My point is, remember that you are dealing with people, not faceless entities. Couple this with principle number 1 above. Over-communication in a human voice to address issues that a customer has, portrays a sense of empathy that you do care about the issue they face and will work with them to help solve it. The more you “humanize” your interactions with your tenants or parking guests, the less likely customers will take a small customer service issue and blow it up on social media.
Customer service and experience is quickly becoming one of the most important issues that companies must prioritize to capture and retain customers. The collective patience of consumers these days has grown razor thin, and you can’t afford to create an environment that gives them the opportunity to voice their frustrations. Your corporate survival depends on not only meeting customer expectations, but largely, exceeding them. Because after all, good enough just ain’t good enough anymore.
Check out www.flashparking.com to see how you can create first-rate consumer experiences with a more customer-centric parking operation.